Don't delay life-saving cancer screenings

Doctors’ offices, imaging centers and labs are slowly opening their doors and welcoming back patients. Many offices were closed and appointments, including important cancer screenings, were cancelled at the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

That’s because, what was safest at the time, was for families and individuals to stay healthy at home to reduce their risk of getting COVID-19. It was also necessary for hospitals to implement new safety procedures so that people would feel safe returning when the peak of the virus had passed.

These efforts seem to have worked. A study reported in Nature journal estimates that widespread stay-at-home orders prevented 60 million people from getting the virus. And now, Swedish has implemented several safety steps to make sure you are safe when you visit any of our facilities.

Cancer screenings are essential to keeping you healthy. In fact, delaying them due to fears of contracting COVID-19 can actually cause more harm than good.

Cancer screenings are essential to keeping you healthy. In fact, delaying them due to fears of contracting COVID-19 can actually cause more harm than good. You can be assured that Swedish is taking necessary precautions to reduce your risk of COVID-19 exposure when you’re in our clinics so you can be confident in scheduling your screenings.

Cancer screenings during and post COVID-19

Staying up to date on vaccines and wellness visits can help you stay healthy and well. And cancer screenings may even be arguably more important for your long-term health. Cancer screenings can catch cancer in its earliest stages, when it’s easier to treat and leads to better outcomes.

During the height of COVID-19, it was critical to postpone“non-essential” procedures. As the pandemic progressed, our facilities implemented new safety procedures. COVID-19 is rife with uncertainty as infection rates across the nation ebb and flow, but we encourage you to seek care when you need it. Adhering to established safety precautions like wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, we are confident in our ability to keep you safe when you visit our facilities. 

If it’s time to schedule your regular cancer screenings, like a mammogram, colonoscopy or prostate exam – and especially if you have any concerning symptoms – don’t delay getting the care you need.

If it’s time to schedule your regular cancer screenings, like a mammogram, colonoscopy or prostate exam – and especially if you have any concerning symptoms – don’t delay getting the care you need. Doctors’ offices, imaging centers and outpatient centers are open and safe to receive care.

Discover why these cancer screenings are so critical to your health.

Mammograms

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that most women should begin getting an annual mammogram around age 40. Your doctor may discuss a different screening schedule if you are at higher risk of developing breast cancer.

A mammogram is a proven tool in lowering your risk of dying from breast cancer. Pushing back your annual screening by six months or a year can allow a cancer that could have been caught early to progress – which may mean it can be more difficult to treat.

Typically, if you are in good health or if you have a higher risk of breast cancer, you shouldn’t delay any screenings.

Colon cancer screenings

Colon cancer is a highly treatable cancer, especially when it’s caught early. A colonoscopy is a proven screening tool to detect polyps in the large intestine before they turn into cancer. Putting off a colonoscopy because you’re concerned about discomfort or being exposed to COVID-19 is putting you at much higher risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that most individuals start getting a screening colonoscopy around age 50. You may need a colonoscopy sooner if you are at high risk of developing colorectal cancer or are experiencing troubling symptoms.

You may be at higher risk if you have:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
  • Genetic syndromes

Certain lifestyle factors, including excess weight, poor diet and lack of physical activity may also put you at higher risk of developing colon cancer. 

Symptoms of colon cancer may include:

  • Bloody stools
  • Stomach cramps or pains that don’t go away
  • Unexplained weight loss

Talk to your doctor if it’s time for your regular colonoscopy or if you’re experiencing any new or troubling symptoms.

Prostate cancer screenings

Prostate cancer is the third most common cancer, behind breast and lung cancer. Fortunately, it is a slow-spreading cancer, which means when caught early it is easy to treat. The best way to catch prostate cancer in its early stages is with regular prostate cancer screenings, which may include:

  • Digital rectal exam (DRE): Your physician will insert a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to check for lumps or hard areas on the prostate. Most men have this exam during their annual wellness exam.
  • Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test: A blood test will check for levels of a certain protein, called prostate-specific antigen (PSA). Elevated blood PSA levels may indicate you need additional testing for prostate cancer.

The ACS estimates that one in nine men will develop prostate cancer in his lifetime. Some men are at higher risk, including African American men, and men with a family history of prostate cancer. All men, regardless of risk, should have a basic screening or conversation about prostate cancer at wellness exams. And if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, talk to your doctor immediately:

  • Trouble urinating
  • Bloody urine or semen
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Pain in hips, back or chest

“It is important to understand that the merits of screening for prostate cancer outweigh the drawbacks for most men, and your primary doctor or a urologist can help you make the best decision for your health,” says Dr. James Kuan, urologist at Swedish.

Understand your risk of cancer and COVID-19

For most of us, you’re safer – and better off – sticking to routine cancer screenings, even during COVID-19. That’s because healthcare providers, including those of us here at Swedish, are taking the necessary steps and precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 for our patients, visitors and families.

If you’re not sure what to do, the best place to start is with a conversation with your doctor. The ACS recommends asking your doctor the following questions to assess your risk of COVID-19 compared to your risk of cancer.

  • What is my risk for the cancer I am being screened for?
  • What is my risk of being exposed to COVID-19 during a cancer screening?
  • Does my risk for cancer outweigh my risk of COVID-19 complications?
  • How is your office keeping patients, visitors and families safe from COVID-19?
  • What happens if I miss a screening?

You can send a message to your provider through MyChart or call their office directly. Or, you can schedule a telehealth visit to discuss your options and make a plan that’s right for your health and safety.

And, rest assured that if you do need in-person care, we’re doing everything in our power to keep you safe when you’re here. Our team is implementing several new safety steps to help ensure your safety when you’re in one of our facilities. We’re following the CDC recommendations for screening, masking, distancing and sanitizing as well as isolating COVID-19 patients from the rest of the population. We also are offering virtual visits – a reliable way to see your doctor from the comfort of your home. Your safety is our priority. It’s our pledge to you.

Find a doctor

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult with a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow-up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Cancer screenings save lives. Learn more. Talk to your doctor about how you can stay up to date on screenings and learn what we’re doing to keep you safe when you visit www.swedish.org/covid-19.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

Our philosophy for well being is looking at the holistic human experience. As such, the Swedish Wellness & Lifestyle Team is committed to shining a light on health-related topics that help you live your healthiest life. From nutrition to mindfulness to annual screenings, our team offers clinically-backed advice and tips to help you and your loved ones live life to the fullest.

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